A Recipe from Jennifer McLagan's new cookbook Bitter

After three immensely interesting and popular single subject cookbooks Bones: Recipe, History and LoreFat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient and Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal, Jennifer McLagan admits this fourth book is it for awhile. Unless it is a really good idea she is not interested and at the moment she doesn't have that flash of genius.

Genius is seen in her latest book Bitter: A Taste of the World's Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes. In an informed style she explores the nuances of bitter. "When was the last time you had a broiled half grapefruit in a restaurant?" She is correct in saying that the previously ubiquitous white grapefruit has all but disappeared from the North American palate. Sweetness is being bred into our fruits and vegetables resulting in less complexity in our dining flavours.

Bitterness is added with chocolate, coffee and a variety of fruits and vegetables such as turnip, chokecherry and radicchio. Many of us have recipes in our box with bitter flavours without understanding why we love them so.

This recipe for pork chops is perfect. There is somewhat of a smokiness in the flavour profile, some acidity and a hint of sweetness that compliments the fatty character of pork.

Thanks to my almost-twin cousin residing in New Zealand for the heads up on this delightful dish. He sent it to both myself and his daughter, Sarah, presumably named after moi. There you go. Three peas in a pod.

Speaking of pods, click here to find the podcast of an interview with the author. It is an enlightening glimpse into the world of bitter. You must listen.

  • 4 rib pork chops, about 1 1/2 inches
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lard
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 large branch fresh thyme
  • 1 cup brewed coffee
  • 1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 heaping tablespoon black currant preserves
Twenty minutes before cooking, remove the pork chops from the refrigerator. Pat dry and season with salt and pepper. In a frying pan large enough to hold the chops, heat the lard over medium-high heat. When the fat is hot, add the chops and brown for 2 minutes on each side.
Transfer the chops to a plate, lower the heat, and add the shallot and thyme to the pan. Stir, and cook until the shallot begins to color. Pour in the coffee and chicken stock and bring to a boil, deglazing the pan by scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Boil to reduce the sauce by about half.
Return the chops to the pan and lower the heat so the liquid is simmering. Cook the chops for 5 minutes, basting with the sauce from time to time. Turn the chops and cook for another 5 minutes, or until cooked.
Place the chops on a platter and keep warm loosely covered with aluminum foil. Remove the thyme from the pan and add the black currant preserves. Stir and cook the sauce until syrupy and reduced to about 1/3 cup / 75 ml. Return the chops to the pan with any juices, and turn to coat with the sauce. Check the seasoning of the sauce—remember it should be pleasantly bitter—and serve the chops, spooning over the sauce.


Steamed Asparagus with Lemon Garlic Gremolata

Today is the last post for our Cooking Light Supper Club. It has been rewarding to share and work
together with this passionate group of gourmands. Fittingly it is spring, a time of renewal and growth. May we all find new avenues to unleash our creative spirit. Thank you to Val at More Than Burnt Toast for keeping us together for such a long time.

Now for ideas using lemons, here we go.

Val at More Than Burnt Toast has found a wonderful recipe called Pasta with Asparagus, Lemon and Prosciutto 

Shelby at Whistlestop Cafe has Lemon Sole with Lemon Caper Sauce.

Gerry at A Life, Lived has made a refreshing spring cocktail Lemon Gin Sparkling Cocktail.

Steamed Asparagus with Lemon-Garlic Gremolata

2 pounds fresh asparagus
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
1 1/2 tablespoons extravirgin olive oil 
3 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
3/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind 
1 garlic clove, minced 

Snap off tough ends of asparagus. Steam asparagus, covered, 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Plunge asparagus into ice water; drain. Place asparagus on a large platter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil.
Combine parsley and the remaining ingredients. Sprinkle over asparagus, tossing gently. Serves 8.


Roasted Carrot, Orange and Avocado Salad


For the roasted carrots:
1 lb. carrots
1/4 tsp. coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, crushed
Olive oil
Kosher salt

For the salad:
2 - 3 navel oranges
2 avocados
3 sprigs fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 lime, or to taste
Olive oil
Fleur de sel
Piment d’Espelette

Heat the oven to 400 F.

Peel and cut the carrots into serving size pieces, whatever you prefer, and place them in a bowl.

In a small dry skillet over medium heat, toast the coriander and fennel seeds until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Let the seeds cool, then coarsely crush them with a mortar and pestle.

Add the toasted spices to the carrots, along with the thyme, garlic, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Toss well with your hands. Transfer the carrots to a baking sheet and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tender and lightly browned. Set aside.

To assemble the salad, with a sharp knife, peel the oranges down to the flesh, removing all the bitter white pith. Slice the oranges into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits and peels, then cut the flesh lengthwise into thick slices. Remove the cilantro leaves from the stems.

In a medium bowl, combine the carrots, oranges and avocados. Sprinkle with the cilantro, lime juice and olive oil.  Toss gently, then divide between serving plates. Garnish with fleur de sel and piment d'Esplette.

Nutrition information per serving: 340 calories; 200 calories from fat (59 percent of total calories); 22 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 37 g carbohydrate; 13 g fiber; 19 g sugar; 5 g protein; 330 mg sodium.

(Recipe adapted from Greg Marchand’s “Frenchie,” Artisan, 2014)

Spring Vegetable and Goat Cheese Dip

Everyone loves the baked spinach or artichoke dip made with lots of cream cheese. Yea, me, too. I always feel so guilty because I cannot stop dipping. It is so addictive.
Well this is the answer. Equally addictive but way lower in calories, this spring vegetable dip is to die for. Ricotta replaces cream cheese. Goat cheese adds richness but not too much. 
Make this in individual consuelas so each person has their own. Or make a large casserole for a party. I bet it might even work in a chafing dish. Serve with plenty of crudités and crusty bread.

Spring Vegetable and Goat Cheese Dip
This restaurant style hot artichoke dip makes perfect party food or first course for a dinner. This can also be made with spinach. This dip is plum full of vegetables reducing any guilt you may have for indulging in the cheeses. Serve with taco chips, baked pita chips or a veggie platter.
1 c. asparagus 250 mL
1 c. leeks, white and light green parts only, finely chopped 250 mL
2 tbsp. unsalted butter 30 mL
2 tbsp. all purpose flour 30 mL
1 1/4 c. whole milk 310 mL
1 c. grated white cheddar cheese 250 mL
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 14 oz. can artichoke hearts in water, drained and chopped 415 mL
1/4 c. peas, fresh or thawed frozen 60 mL
2 tbsp. chopped fresh chives or green onions 60 mL
2 tbsp. chopped parsley 30 mL
2 tbsp. chopped mint 30 mL
1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest 2 mL
4 oz. crumbled fresh goat cheese, divided 115 g

Preheat oven to 450 F (230 C). Prepare the asparagus and cook in boiling salted water until still crisp, about two minutes. Drain and set aside. Set aside the asparagus tips in a separate bowl.

Melt butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium low heat. Add leeks and cook until soft and tender, about 6 minutes. Stir in flour with a rubber spatula. Cook for a minute or two to remove the raw flour taste. Slowly stir in milk, over low heat. Stir while heating to a simmer. Cook until thickened and remove from heat.

Stir in cheddar until melted. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Add 2 oz. (55 g) of goat cheese, herbs, lemon zest, asparagus, artichoke hearts and peas. Gently mix until evenly incorporated.

Pour into a 4 cup (1 L) buttered baking dish or six individual ramekins. Arrange asparagus tips and remainder of the goat cheese on top. At this point it can be covered with kitchen wrap and refrigerated until baking, up to 3 hours.

Bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 20 minutes. Rest for five minutes before serving. 

Source: Adapted from www.epicurious.com


Avocado Salad with Chickpeas

The avocados are brilliant at the moment. True, they are plentiful and inexpensive but you just can't beat the flavour of in-season produce. Avocados alone are a good source of fibre but add in chickpeas and the nutritional value becomes even more complex.

Piment d'esplette is a variety of chili peppers that is cultivated in the French Pyrenees in the Basque region. It is only mildly hot so can be used freely. Locally it is used as we use black pepper. Substitute with freshly ground black pepper if you wish.

Avocado Salad with Chickpeas

This salad is a meal for one person. Increase amounts to serve more.

1/2 avocado, cubed
1/2 tomato, roughly chopped
1/4 c. cooked chickpeas
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp. olive or camelina oil
crispy iceberg lettuce
fleur de sel
piment d'esplette

Peel and cube half an avocado into a medium sized bowl. Squeeze lemon juice over and toss gently. Add the chopped tomatoes and chickpeas. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss again.

Arrange lettuce leaves on your serving plate and carefully arrange the salad on top. Drizzle with any of the dressing that remains in the bowl. Garnish with fleur de sel and piment d'esplette and serve.


Butternut Squash and Broccoli Lasagna

We are in the shoulder season between our winter stash of cold room and preserved foods and the garden's spring bounty. One day it feels like summer and we are digging in the soil and the next we have a few inches of snow.

I am fortunate that there is a gardener in town who has already begun her microgreen crop. Fresh is best when it comes to pea shoots. The grocery store isn't fresh enough unless you live in a big city.

This vegetarian lasagna can be made with whatever is available. I am using butternut squash and broccoli alongside my homemade ricotta cheese. Serve with a green salad.

Butternut Squash and Broccoli Lasagna

1 butternut squash
1 lb. broccoli
olive oil
coarse sea salt
black pepper
1 pound fresh ricotta
1 pound mozarella cheese
1 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
red chile flakes
pasta sheets

Béchamel Sauce:
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup butter
4 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 bay leaf

Slice the squash in half and scoop out all the seeds and discard. Slice squash into 1/2 inch slices and peel. When the entire squash has been sliced and peeled, toss lightly in olive oil and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Arrange in a single layer on a baking pan. Bake in a 400 F oven for about 12 minutes or until barely tender.

Meanwhile cut the broccoli into florets and blanch in salted, boiling water for 2 - 3 minutes. Drain and chill in cold water. Drain thoroughly. Chop coarsely. Toss with a little olive oil, season with sea salt, pepper and chile flakes. Set aside.

Combine the ricotta, mozarella, one cup of grated Parmesan, lemon zest, sage and rosemary. Set aside

Make the béchamel by melting the butter in a medium sized pot. Then add the flour. Cook for a couple of minutes but do not let it brown. Slowly whisk in the milk. Add bay leaf and grated nutmeg. Heat to a simmer and let it cook for a couple of minutes. Transfer to the top of a double boiler and keep warm until needed.

Boil pasta sheets in a big pot of salted water until barely al dente. Drain and cut into pieces that fit a 9-inch x 13-inch baking dish.

To put it all together begin by ladling a half a cup of béchamel sauce in the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of pasta. Then add a third of the squash and broccoli. On top of that add about a third of the cheese mixture. This will be in small chunks. Add a cup of béchamel. Top with another layer of pasta and repeat two more times. Top with pasta and the remainder of the béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. At this point the lasagna can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Bake at 375 F for about 45 minutes. It should be bubbling. If the top has not browned place under the broiler for a minute or two. Let it rest for 5 or 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6 to 8 people.